Ariana Grande’s fourth studio album Sweetener is out today, and while it’s upbeat enough to sound like a bubbly celebration of the pop star’s domestic bliss with SNL fiancé Pete Davidson, there’s a subtler — and darker — undertone to it. In addition to a handful of references to the dissolution of her last relationship with rapper Mac Miller, Grande’s latest work gets a sense of urgency from the way she’s coped since the bombing at her concert in Manchester last year. Most references to the bombing in the album are ambiguous, but the album ends with an explicit nod to the tragedy.
The 2017 incident — which killed twenty three, including the attacker, and left over a hundred people wounded, many of them children — unfolded during her headlining concert at Manchester Arena on May 22nd. Grande was left feeling “broken” and reportedly struggled for months after the bombing. She explores some of these feelings through Sweetener’s ninth track, “breathin,” which is about coping with her anxiety after the attack. The album doesn’t linger here, though: on “no tears left to cry,” the first single released earlier this year, Grande sets the tone for the whole album. Yes, she suffered, but this is an album about picking yourself back up after something awful happens. No surprise, then, that the title track itself is about making the best out of a terrible situation.
These are the most obvious allusions of how Grande worked through the aftermath of the bombing, but there’s also a much more understated tribute to the ordeal. In “get well soon,” the final track, there’s 40 seconds of recorded dead air at the end. This brings the song to five minutes and twenty two seconds — for the date of the bombing, 5/22. Listeners have thus been interpreting the end of the song as a moment of silence for the victims. On social media, Grande gave fans a bit more insight into the nature of the song:
isss ab my anxiety. i felt like i was floating for like 3 months last year & not in a nice way. like i outside my body? was v scary and i couldn’t breathe well. so it’s ab that. & lots of voices in my head singin. i hope it comforts ppl who hear it pls ☁️— Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande) May 29, 2018
Grande did hold a benefit concert weeks after the bombing last year, but it’s clear that the tragedy still weighs heavy on her: during an interview on Beats 1 this morning, the singer burst into tears while discussing it.
“It changes your life quite a bit,” Grande said. “You really want to be more present, and follow happy impulses, and figure it out later, you know? Just stay in the moment. You try not to give into fear, because obviously [that’s] the whole point of being here. That was the point of finishing the tour, it was to set an example for my fans. They’re fearless enough to show up to the fucking show. Are you kidding? You want to set the same example.”